Monday, May 26, 2014

Veterans buried in Ridgefield

For Memorial Day, we offer this list of nearly 700 veterans buried in Ridgefield cemeteries. The list is a work in progress, and by no means complete.

We visited every gravesite to confirm its existence and gather information and photos, all of which are online and available to the public on

This list represents three years of research, work that is continuing as we make our way through the various town cemeteries.

Cemeteries that have been completed include Mapleshade, Fairlawn, Scott’s (also called Ridgefield Cemetery), Titicus (also called Old Town Cemetery), Hurlbutt, and Seymour. St. Mary Cemetery is nearly complete, and work has also been done at Branchville Cemetery (the only cemetery with a military section).

The listings are based on information at the gravesite and/or information obtained from obituaries or town histories.

We welcome additions to this list at jackfsanders atsign gmail  dot  com

Here is the link to the cemetery list, which in turn has links to all the men and women listed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A box of bluebirds

Nearly 15 years ago, the spirit moved me to build a bluebird box. Bluebirds were rarely seen in my wooded yard, but I was struck with hope that a nicely built box would attract a nesting pair.

Year after year, the box went unused.

Some years, we spotted bluebirds inspecting the box. Once or twice, they seemed to actually start a nest, but then would vanish.

Until this year.

A parent feeds the chicks.
A bluebird pair not only built a nest, but laid eggs and is now in the midst of feeding chicks that are about to fledge.

What happened? Here’s my theory.

Last year, another spirit moved me to clean up the back edge of the yard, a 10-foot-wide strip along a stone wall that was filled with fallen trees, rambling wild shrubs, tall wildflowers that others might call “weeds,” and piles of brush from years of cleaning up after hurricanes and winter storms, seasoned with discarded Christmas trees and wreaths. The area had been allowed to run wild and the brush piles to grow for decades.  The nesting box was on a post at the edge of this strip.

My excuse for allowing this mess to exist was to consider it a sort of backyard wildlife refuge. Indeed, many birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals could be spotted there — not to mention neighborhood cats in search of rodents. (Other hunters included Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks, and nice, long garter snakes.)

However, the wildlife also included House Wrens, mortal enemies of bluebirds. 
The wrens could often be seen hunting insects in and about the brush piles. They may have nested there, too.

House Wrens do not like to share their territories with other birds, and often chase away potential neighbors. Being cavity nesters like the bluebirds, they also might grab the nesting box for themselves. At the very least, they would chase the bluebirds away.

Sometimes, as they are wont to do, the House Wrens would fill up the inside of the box with sticks, making it unusable for nesting. Many was the autumn that I would clean out a box crammed top to bottom with twigs.

I believe that clearing the mess not only made the area less attractive to wrens, it also opened up the yard, making it more attractive to bluebirds. They like open fields for bug hunting — and, probably, for keeping an eye out for predators.

My backyard “wildlife refuge” may be gone, but I don’t feel bad. On the other side of the stone wall is an acre of woods and wetlands, full of wild things.

And my yard now has bluebirds.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Notes on knots

While some may say there is no such thing as a good knot, some knots are not as bad as other knots.

Two kinds of knots may pop up in – or out of – your wood: red knots and black knots.

Red knots
Red knots are formed by branches that were living when the tree was cut down. Black knots are the remains of branches that died – perhaps a hundred or more years before the tree was felled. The black is the bark and pitch that surrounded the once-living branch and was subsequently enveloped by the tree as the trunk grew wider.

Knotty pine, the paneling so fashionable in the 1940s and ’50s, owed its design to red knots, which are well-fastened to the wood around them. Black knots, however, tend to loosen and pop out.

To most woodworkers, especially furniture-makers, all knots are bad. Because they expand and contract differently from the wood around them, and may have different densities, they can lead to uneven finishes and often weakened structures. 

Black knots can simply fall out, resulting in knot holes, which can significantly weaken the wood and, in a table top or door, provide an awkward opening.

So especially if it’s black, you would not want a wood knot.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The stinky tree

The Bradford pear is a “street tree” that’s blessed with benefits and cursed with shortcomings.

A cultivar of an Asian tree, the Bradford is actually a Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana). Joseph Callery, a French missionary, “discovered” the species in China and sent it to Europe to be classified – and enjoyed. Today, it’s found along countless miles of American town and city streets. It laughs at pollutants like auto exhaust or road salt and needs barely a square foot or two of exposed earth as it rises from a cement sidewalk next to an asphalt highway.

In early spring, the Bradford produces thousands of showy, white flowers. Unfortunately, the blossoms reek – the smell has been likened to long-unwashed sweat socks. It’s a scent, nonetheless, that attracts scores of pollinating insects.

The tree has another disadvantage: It’s weak and it breaks. Sometimes, Bradfords split down the middle.

However, a rarely mentioned benefit of the Bradford pear is its tiny, marble-sized fruits. Birds love them, especially in the middle of winter when food is sparse. Even in January, it’s not unusual to see robins, cardinals, Blue Jays, even flocks of Cedar Waxwings, wandering its branches, snacking on the fruit, right in the middle of a town or city.

For that alone, we’ll deal with the spring stench and the risk of being beaned by a branch.

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